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“The price of a commodity will never go to zero. When you invest in commodities futures, you’re not buying a piece of paper that says you own an intangible piece of company that can go bankrupt.”
About 80% of the new clients I speak with have some type of experience with stock options. Most of them, when prodded, express a desire to “get properly diversified” as one of their chief reasons for taking the next step to commodities. What intrigues me is that few have a firm grasp of the real advantages that commodities options can offer – especially if they are accustomed to the constraints that stock option selling can place on an investor.
Don’t get me wrong – selling equity options can be a lucrative strategy in the right hands. However, if you are one of the tens of thousands of investors that sells equity options to enhance your stock portfolio performance, you may be surprised to discover the horsepower you can get by harnessing this same strategy in the commodities arena
5 Key Differences between Stock and Futures Options
Selling (also known as writing) options can offer benefits to investors in equities or commodities. However, there are substantial differences between writing stock options and writing futures options. What it generally boils down to is leverage. Futures options offer more leverage and therefore can offer greater risk, but also greater potential rewards. But this same leverage opens up several other key advantages you may have never heard of. If you’ve only ever sold equity options, this seminar
In selling equity options, one does not have to guess short term market direction to profit. The same remains true in futures, with a few key differences.
1. Lower Margins (Higher ROI):
A key factor that attracts many stock option traders to futures. Margins posted to hold short stock options can be 10 to 20 times the premium collected for the option. With the SPAN margin system used in futures, options can be sold with out of pocket margin requirements* for as little as 1 to 1 ½ times premium collected. For instance, you might sell an option for $600 and post a margin of only $700. (Total margin requirement minus premium collected). What does this mean for you? The potential for a large return on your invested capital. (Of course, corresponding risk applies to this as well.)
2. Big Premiums: Attractive premiums can be collected for Deep out of the money strikes.
Unlike equities, where to collect any worthwhile premium, options must be sold 1-3 strike prices out of the money, futures options can often be sold at strike prices far out of the money. At such distant levels, short term market moves will typically not have a big impact on your option’s value. Therefore, time value erosion may be allowed to work less impeded by short term volatility.
Many equity option traders complain of poor liquidity hampering their efforts to enter or liquidate positions. While some futures contracts have higher open interest than others, most of the major contracts like Financials, Sugar, Grains, Gold, Natural Gas, Crude Oil, have substantial volume and open interest offering several thousand open contracts per strike price.
4. Real Diversification
In the current state of financial markets, many high net worth investors are seeking precious diversification away from equities. By expanding into commodities options, you not only gain an investment that is 100% uncorrolated to equities, your option positions can also be uncorrelated to each other. In stocks, most of the time, your individual stock (option) will be largely at the mercy of the index as a whole. If Microsoft is falling, chances are, your Exxon and Coca Cola are falling too. In commodities, the price of Natural Gas has little to do with the price of Wheat or Silver. This can be a major benefit in diluting risk.
5. Fundamental Bias
crops - selling commodities options
When selling a stock option, the price of that stock is dependent on many, many factors – not the least of which is corporate earnings, comments by CEO/Board, legal actions, Fed Decisions, or direction of the overall index. Soybeans however, can’t “cook their books.” Silver can’t be declared “too big to fail.”
Knowing the fundamentals of a commodity, such as crop sizes and demand cycles, can be of great value when selling commodities options.
In commodities, it is most often old fashioned supply and demand fundamentals that ultimately dictates price. Knowing these fundamentals can give you an advantage in deciding what options to sell.